I write for an Italian car magazine called Kerb and last week my editor asked me to write 1.000 words on the Golf. “What?”, I said, “How dare you? 1.000? Who do you think I am? I can do better!”
“No”, he said, “You don’t understand. Not about the latest Golf. The Golf. All seven generations of it.”
So I said “What d’you…”, and then I said nothing more because I had nothing more to say. What the hell can I say about the Golf? More to the point, what more could I write? What can I say that hasn’t been said already?
I’ve never written about this car. I never even talk about it. No, really. There’s something I’m owning up to you, dear reader: I’ve driven it many times but I’ve never ever written a single word about the VW Golf. There never seemed to be a point. It is one of the most discussed cars in the world. It is one of the few cars with no “flip-flop” of opinion. With the Golf, there is no argument whether it’s black and white, good or evil, positive or negative. It’s a good car, well made and usually bought in plain colours like white. Or black. Or grey. You hardly see one in blue or yellow or red. Really? Honestly? What else is there to say? The Volkswagen Golf is intelligently designed, well made, well-engineered, balanced, relatively economical to buy, relatively cheap to run, easy to resell, good to drive, good looking albeit a bit drab, decently equipped and…
Well, look at it this way; if Martians were to land on Planet Earth today and ask about the best car to buy these days, the answer would be, “Well, just buy a Golf”
Just not a diesel, perhaps.
There’s no point talking about flaws either, because on a purely technical level, it really hasn’t got that many. Yes, the old 1,4 litre TSI engines with 122 and 160 BHP respectively had issues, especially the latter. Getting 160 HP out of a small 1,4 was a bit of a stretch and so the turbine kept failing and breaking down. Constantly. Even the 122 version had its problems. One of my dearest friend has owned one for 5 years and spent the first three of those years going back and forth from his home to his trusted mechanic. However, eventually the problem was fixed, and now the car works O.K.
What’s more, the Golf had been one of the first cars to employ a DSG, double-clutch system, gearbox and boy, oh boy, did it work brilliantly. Seamless gear changes. Fast. Smooth. Reliable, even.
Over the years, the Golf has gotten fat. But this is hardly news. Every single car journalist, writer, essayist, talker, writer and self-proclaimed expert I’ve ever met or spoken with or read about has said pretty much the same thing. Yes, yes, we all know. The modern equivalent of the Golf GTI is actually the Polo GTI, or the UP-exclamation mark even (UP!) because the Golf is too big, etc etc and bla bla bla. Again, been there, done that, read that.
What I don’t like about the Golf is that it really isn’t a car of choice, so to speak. It’s the Joker, the wild card, it’s what you get when you’re desperate for wheels but can’t be bothered to think about it. The Golf is an ideal taxicab in congested cities like Rome or Milan, it is an ideal rental car and a Uber car, and a carpool vehicle. The Golf is to cars what Manchester United Football Club is to football fans. It’s the answer you provide to a question you really don’t care about and don’t know much about that. You love the Ferrari and the Lotus Elise and the Hyundai Veloster, even. But the Golf is what you buy when you need a vehicle to get you from A to B without breaking down or breaking the bank.
The GTI and the R are of course pleasant exceptions. Fast and interesting, yes. But the GTI is becoming increasingly popular (when I say popular, what I mean is common) and the R is just too expensive.
I was in London a few months ago with my mates and we needed a car to get around. The usual choices. Grey Skoda something, beige Volvo that, white Seat this. And the Golf. Black. We took that one. I don’t really remember much about the drive. I remember parking it somewhere in Whitcomb Street near The National Gallery, which is where you park if you’re rich or if, like me, you’re broke and just trying to get to the Porcupine in Charing Cross, which is my favourite pub in London. I remember finding a parking ticket when I retrieved the car. Which took a while, retrieving the car I mean, because my sense of direction is useless and my two friends had never been to London before. I remember it was black. And… err…. That’s it.
I wouldn’t call it boring, though. The Golf is practical, sensible and cheap. And a practical, sensible and cheap thing is not boring. It’s clever. And cleverness is never boring.
But as it turns out, my editor was right. I’m no use when it comes to writing about the Golf, but for a different reason. The point is, when all is said and done, I’m a car geek. I don’t necessarily like talking about cars, I certainly never bring the subject up unless someone else does first. But when it comes down to it, I just like cars. All of them. Commie cars and bad cars and unreliable cars even. You name it, I probably love it for some reason or other. And this is it. The VW Golf is just too normal, too predictable. I bet it would probably go for 300k miles straight without a single failure. And this… Oh, sorry. There you go, 1000 words on the Golf. that’s 998, 999. Done.
words & pics: Alessandro Renesis
photographs taken in London